Common cultural misunderstandings

Common Cultural Misunderstandings Worksheet 1
Try to decide why the following misunderstandings happened:
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This
Most of the nationalities in the Japanese language class were convinced the word watashi meant ‘nose’ until someone translated it for them.

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Witness
When Japanese witnesses appear at American trials, juries are likely to misinterpret their body language and think that they are lying.

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Concentration
Teachers in the school in London complained that the Asian students seemed to be falling asleep during exam listening practice.

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Difficulties
When the Japanese side replied to the Dutch negotiating team’s proposal with ‘That’s difficult’, the Dutch replied ‘Tell us the problem and we’ll find the solution’. The meeting finished with no further progress.

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Discipline
A Japanese manager had to reprimand his American subordinate for bad work, but it took 5 meetings before the American took responsibility and changed his behaviour.

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A letter of complaint
A Japanese company writing to an American software company to complain about the American company’s software were totally unsatisfied with the American response, which was just to offer them advice on how they could fix it rather than a replacement or a refund.

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Yes?
At the end of the presentation the British team were very surprised that the Japanese side rejected their proposal, as they had seemed to be agreeing with everything they said.

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Refusing
When asked ‘Don’t you want sugar in your coffee?’ the Japanese guest was given sugar even though he had tried to refuse.

Common Cultural Misunderstandings Worksheet 2- Readings with Key
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This
The Japanese language class was convinced the word watashi meant ‘nose’ until someone translated it for them.
The Japanese point at their nose to show ‘I” or ‘me’, whereas most countries point at their chest.
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Witness
When Japanese witnesses appear at American trials, juries are likely to misinterpret their body language and think that they are lying.
There are two problems here, both connected to how the witnesses sit. If they sit with their heads down to show that they are sorry the American jury will think they are avoiding eye contact because they are lying. If they sit up very straight to show their attention and respect for the court the jury will think they are very stressed and so probably lying. The best way is to look relaxed and confident.
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Concentration
Teachers in the school complained that their Asian students seemed to be falling asleep during exam listening practice.
The students had been showing their concentration by closing their eyes, but this had been taken as sleepiness and/ or lack of interest.
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Difficulties
When the Japanese side replied to the Dutch negotiating team’s proposal with ‘That’s difficult’, the Dutch replied ‘Tell us the problem and we’ll find the solution’. The meeting finished with no further progress.

The Japanese were trying to politely say ‘No’
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Discipline
A Japanese manager had to reprimand his American subordinate for bad work, but it took 5 meetings before the American took responsibility and changed his behaviour.
The Japanese manager was being so indirect that the American employee really didn’t realize that he had done something wrong until the fifth meeting.
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A letter of complaint
A Japanese company writing to an American software company to complain about their software were totally unsatisfied with the American response, which was just to offer them advice on how they could fix it rather than a replacement or a refund.

The Japanese letters started with expressions like “We are sorry to bother you but we’re having problems with your software. We deeply appreciate your help. It could be our fault, etc. etc.,” to make sure that the American side wouldn’t feel bad. Because the Japanese were apologizing so much the Americans thought it really was the Japanese company’s fault. They carefully explained what to do for the problem but gave no apologies. To the Japanese customer, this was yet another example of American arrogance and poor customer service.
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Yes?
At the end of the presentation the British team were very surprised that the Japanese side rejected their proposal, as they had seemed to be agreeing with everything they said.
The Japanese people in the meeting had been nodding all the way through to show they were listening, but the British thought it meant ‘Yes, we agree’
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Refusing
In English, ‘Yes’ always means ‘Yes, I do (want sugar)’ even when answering a negative question. In Japanese it is the opposite.

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